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Arlo Maverick’s Hard Work Finally Pays Off on Blue Collar

The Edmonton hip-hop vet isn't just working for the weekend, he's working overtime to deliver his fresh new sounds from the underground.

by Ben Boddez

Photos by Aaron Pedersen

If you take a look at some of the year’s most prominent musical trends, there’s been a renewed hunger for songs that take a look at the stories of everyday people — in lieu of multi-millionaires speaking extensively about their lavish lifestyles. While it’s often manifested in the country and folk genres, Edmonton rapper Arlo Maverick’s old-school boom-bap sensibilities provide the perfect framework for his lyrics to rise to the forefront, allowing him to tell some stories that should be relatable to many.

Shaping his narratives from the perspective of an Albertan blue-collar worker pushing himself to the limit to support a family while not being fairly compensated, many of the stories that appear on Maverick’s new album, Blue Collar, come from his personal experiences. Tackling issues like the misplaced promise of a wide-open job market after acquiring a post-secondary degree, the rising cost of living in a society that promotes a rampant consumerist culture, and abusive supervisors as the wordsmith also laces in stories about discrimination that he’s faced, the same kind of poignant social commentary he’s been providing for decades as a founding member of underground rap collective Politic Live.

While Maverick brings quite a lot of classic rap flavour to the project, some drill beats and trap hi-hats still also appear throughout and he continues to prove his versatility with some catchy melodic hooks and even a gospel chorus on album stand-out “Lost My Way.”

We caught up with Maverick below to talk about his worst job experiences, his love for hip-hop’s “golden era,” and his motivations for bringing up blue-collar issues on a concept album.

The idea of bringing back “hip-hop’s golden era” comes up a lot in online discussions of your music – what does that mean to you and how do we see aspects of the golden era on your new project?

Hip-hop’s golden era to me was a time period where artists were pushing themselves and creating memorable bodies of work. If you look at the artists during this time period, their motivation wasn’t money, it was bragging rights. You wanted to be considered the best storyteller, to have the most intricate wordplay, to have the best concepts and stand out for being unique. The production of this time period was the perfect backdrop, as it allowed for lyrics to be at the forefront. 

Sonically, Blue Collar borrows from hip-hop’s golden era with songs like “On Me” and “Lost My Way.”  The drums have a grittier texture, but the instruments and singing bring soul to it, which allows for the message to be the focus. Even when I explore more contemporary styles like drill and trap, I’m still telling stories and coming up with concepts like some of my favourite golden-era songs.

What inspired you to tackle the subject matter of the plight of the blue-collar worker across an entire album? What’s the personal story that you felt was the most important to tell?

Working as a blue-collar worker and seeing how hard-working people who wanted to make an honest living were being exploited in the recession of the 2010s. I’ve seen people lose their livelihood and have to start from scratch. Those who were fortunate enough to not get laid off had to deal with employers who made them feel like they should be lucky to have a job. Experiencing all of this made me start writing as a way to vent. Hearing others share their thoughts made me realize that no artists in popular music were speaking about these issues. 

The personal story I felt was the most important to tell was the false promise of post-secondary education being the answer to everything. There are many people working at a job that isn’t in their field, supporting their families while paying student loans for a career they didn’t even get a chance to start.  

What do you hope people – especially blue-collar workers in your native Alberta – will take away from this album?

Blue Collar isn’t just for the blue-collar workers. It’s a microcosm of the personal struggles that we endure in trying to have purpose, happiness, peace, love, and family in a society that seems to make it harder and harder to do so. The themes on this album are relatable to many. I just happened to frame them from a blue-collar perspective. So hopefully this album becomes the soundtrack that helps people forge on and gives them language for their joy and pain.  

What’s the first job you ever worked? What’s the worst job you ever had and how did you deal with it? What’s the best job you ever had?

For my first job, I held signs for Domino’s Pizza making $5/hr if I’m not mistaken. I was about nine-years-old at the time.  

The worst job I ever had was being an order picker in a warehouse for a grocery company.  The time limits and accuracy rates made for a competitive, dangerous, and stressful environment.  

The best job I ever had though was working at HMV. I loved introducing people to new music and learning about new music from customers. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the highest paying job.

What have you been listening to lately?

Hip-hop wise, Mouraine, Moto, K-Riz, Sinzere, Kuzi Cee and Deuce Fantastick. I’m a huge fan of Alberta’s hip-hop scene. But I’ve also been listening to everything from Turbo Negro and Tiger Army to Leon Bridges and Quincy Jones.  

What’s next for Arlo Maverick? Anything else you’d like us to know?
Later this year, I plan to hit the road and tour in support of Blue Collar. I also have a few documentaries in the works. I directed one recently on Edmonton’s early breakdance scene that can be seen on TELUS Optik TV now.